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Inbox: Kiermaier to provide boost Rays need?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from fans
MLB.com @wwchastain

I think now that Kevin Kiermaier is back, the fortunes of the team are going to turn around for the better. How bad do you think the Rays missed Kiermaier this season?
-- Frank T., Tampa, Fla.

I'm not sure if the Rays would be in first place in the American League East if Kiermaier didn't miss as much time as he did, but I think they'd be more in the middle of things had he been with the team. Take the positive effects he had on games this past weekend. Or look at the 2016 season if you want to get an idea about Kiermaier's value. Tampa Bay was a different team with him in the lineup, and his 25 Defensive Runs Saved led all Major League center fielders. Everybody is replaceable to a certain extent, but Kiermaier has proven time and again that he's special.

I think now that Kevin Kiermaier is back, the fortunes of the team are going to turn around for the better. How bad do you think the Rays missed Kiermaier this season?
-- Frank T., Tampa, Fla.

I'm not sure if the Rays would be in first place in the American League East if Kiermaier didn't miss as much time as he did, but I think they'd be more in the middle of things had he been with the team. Take the positive effects he had on games this past weekend. Or look at the 2016 season if you want to get an idea about Kiermaier's value. Tampa Bay was a different team with him in the lineup, and his 25 Defensive Runs Saved led all Major League center fielders. Everybody is replaceable to a certain extent, but Kiermaier has proven time and again that he's special.

I'm still mad about Tim Beckham. We drafted the guy with the No. 1 pick of the 2008 Draft, he never does well; then, once he's finally performing like the guy we thought we drafted, we trade him. I just don't get it.
-- Tom C., Clearwater, Fla.

It's interesting how the tide of public opinion has turned regarding Beckham. For years, I've received emails that questioned why the Rays had not gotten rid of Beckham before, and why didn't they draft Buster Posey, and just about everything negative in the book about Beckham. Finally, they traded him and now the tide turns the other way. I'm not exactly sure why the club felt inclined to deal him at this juncture, but I've surmised by the return for him in the deal that Tampa Bay no longer felt he fit in on the team. I know from some of the remarks by Rays players after the trade that they liked his talent, though.

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Now that Kiermaier has returned, do you think he'll take it easy a little more so he won't bang himself up as much as he has? What good is he to the team if he's not able to play?
-- Bob A., St. Petersburg

I'm not a fan of Kiermaier taking it easy. First, I've been around sports a long time, and I've heard a lot of athletes say that taking it easy on any play -- in any sport -- makes you more susceptable to getting injured. Next, taking it easy isn't Kiermaier. One of the things that makes him special is the fact he seems to have an extra gear. If Kiermaier is not playing like his hair's on fire, he's just not as valuable of a player. And he's certainly not as fun to watch.

With the Rays looking less and less like playoff contenders, I'm starting to look toward the 2018 season. Which of the team's young Minor League players might we see with the team in '18?
-- Ted G., Tampa, Fla.

Three top prospects immediately come to mind: shortstop Willy Adames (No. 2), right-hander Brent Honeywell (No. 1) and first baseman Jake Bauers (No. 5). I think all of them will arrive to camp in the spring with a chance to make the team. Of that group, I think Bauers has the most clear-cut path to becoming a starter. Current first basemen Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison will both be free agents. On top of that, the Rays traded Casey Gillaspie to the White Sox to get Dan Jennings. I've seen Bauers play, and I'm impressed. I think he's opened eyes with for Tampa Bay as well.

I'm figuring that Alex Cobb will go the free-agency route after this season -- unless the Rays manage to trade him before this season is over. Given that reality, what do you think next season's rotation will look like?
-- Fred A., Jacksonville, Fla.

Based on the way the Rays operate, along with what they've done in the past, I'm in agreement with you that Cobb will go elsewhere via free agency. You also have to wonder if this will be the offseason when Tampa Bay trades Chris Archer. If the Rays don't trade him, he'll obviously be the guy at the top of the rotation, followed by Jake Odorizzi and Matt Andriese. After that, I think it will be an open competition between Austin Pruitt, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria and Honeywell.

I'm wondering what the Rays are going to do at shortstop next season. They've got Adeiny Hechavarria, Daniel Robertson and Matt Duffy at the Major League level and Adames coming up through the ranks.
-- Bill D., St. Petersburg

First, Hechavarria has done a really nice job playing shortstop since coming over from the Marlins in a trade. Next, let's wait and see if Duffy will finally be healthy. He's had a year he'd like to forget while trying to come back from heel surgery. Robertson has shown a really good glove this year, but his bat needs to catch up to his glove. Then there's Adames, who, I think once he's ready for the job, it will be his. So when and if the organization feels he's ready, I'll be surprised if they don't clear the deck for his arrival.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays